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Where's the CIA's Missing Jewel?

What's the missing jewel?

Today, the CIA released its infamous "Family Jewels" file. This is a set of internal memos compiled in the mid-1970s after press reports revealed numerous CIA dirty tricks. In 1973, CIA director James Schlessinger, having learned that Watergate burglars E. Howard Hunt and James McCord (each a CIA veteran) had been in contact with the Agency while carrying out illegal activities for President Richard Nixon's reelection campaign, ordered divisions within the CIA to report any activities they had engaged in since 1959 that might be outside the CIA's authority. Deputy Director William Colby then assembled a loose-leaf notebook of the memos that poured in. The whole package totaled 700 pages. And though its existence has been known for years--congressional investigators of the 1970s had access to these documents--this secret file has never before been made public. It was considered to hold the agency's darkest secrets.

Many of these secrets did emerge during the congressional investigations of the 1970s: the joint CIA-Mafia attempt to assassinate Fidel Castro; CIA surveillance of American reporters and political dissidents; the CIA's secret jailing for three years of a suspected Soviet agent (who was not a Soviet agent). The newly-released documents are full of fresh details about some of these notorious episodes. But at least one of the "Family Jewels" seems to be missing.

The first document in the packet is a 1973 memo from Howard Osborn, then the CIA's director of security, to the CIA top management, and it summarizes the "jewels" compiled by his office. It lists eight problems--including the recruitment of mobster Johnny Roselli for the Castro hit. But blacked out from this document is the first item on Osborn's list. And a two-and-a-half page description of this operation is also redacted from the "Family Jewels" file.

In a recent speech, General Michael Hayden, the CIA's director, hailed the declassification of the "Family Jewels." He remarked, "The documents provide a glimpse of a very different time and very different Agency." Yet the very first secret in these papers has been deleted.

"The No. 1 jewel of the CIA's Office of Security is probably a pretty good one--especially since the second jewel in this list is the Roselli/Castro assassination program," says Thomas Blanton, director of the National Security Archive, a public interest outfit that filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the "Family Jewels" fifteen years ago. There are many other deletions in the "Family Jewels" file, and in most instances there's no telling exactly what has been excised. But much of the censored material seems to be related to how the CIA has created cover and fake documents. "This is probably justifiable," says Blanton, because such operational secrets may still be relevant today. But the missing jewel? Assassination? Domestic spying? Something unimaginable? "We just don't know," says Blanton.

All in all, Blanton notes, the file is not as explosive as CIA-watchers might have anticipated. "These are the 'Family Jewels'?" he asks sarcastically. "Much of this came out years ago. So how could the CIA justify keeping this stuff secret for 30 years? This is not really as informative as the [previously released] inspector general's report on the Castro assassination plots."

There are, however, intriguing tidbits scattered throughout these hundreds of pages. Here are a few:

* In a June 1, 1973 memo written to Colby, Walter Elder, who had been executive assistant for John McCone, the CIA director in the early 1960s, outlined "activities which to hostile observers or to someone without complete knowledge...could be interpreted as examples of activities exceeding CIA's charters." One such activity, he noted, "involved chemical warfare operations against...." The target is redacted. This operation, according to Elder, never went beyond the planning stage.

* In the same memo, Elder reports that discussions within the CIA chief's offices were recorded and transcribed: "I know that any one who has worked in the Director's office has worried about the fact that conversations within the offices and over the telephones were transcribed. During McCone's tenure, there were microphones in his regular office, his inner office, his dining room, his office in East Building, and his study at his residence on White Haven Street. I do not know who would be willing to raise such an issue, but knowledge of such operations tends to spread, and certainly the Agency is vulnerable on this score." Secret transcripts of conversations involving CIA directors? According to Blanton, there's never been any public indication that McCone or other CIA directors bugged themselves. Transcripts of such discussions could contain plenty of jewels. The National Security Archive is already filing a Freedom of Information Act request.

* One memo notes that CIA had a Project OFTEN that collected "data on dangerous drugs from U.S. firms" until the program was terminated in the fall of 1972. Another memo reports that commercial drug manufacturers "passed on" to the CIA drugs "rejected because of unfavorable side effects" These drugs were then tested using volunteers from the U.S. military.

* During the internal review that led to the creation of the "Family Jewels" file, a top CIA official suggested that the CIA director keep himself in the dark about MKULTRA--the Agency's mind control program run by Sidney Gottlieb, a psychiatrist and chemist. As part of this program, the CIA slipped LSD and other psychoactive drugs to unwitting subjects. (Gottlieb, according to another document in the file, was supposed to have provided poison in for an assassination attempt against Patrice Lumumba, the anti-colonial prime minister of the Republic of Congo. After being deposed in a 1960 coup, Lumumba was shot and killed by Kantangan forces.)

* CIA employees assigned to MHCHAOS--the operation that conducted surveillance against American opponents of the Vietnam war and other political dissidents--expressed a "high degree of resentment" about being given such a mission.

* The CIA "performed image enhancement techniques" on video footage of the television show of columnist Jack Anderson, who had received leaks of top-secret CIA documents. "The purpose was to try to identify serial numbers of CIA documents in Anderson's possession"--presumably documents he held up or that were on his desk. The memo on this operation does not say if the effort succeeded.

Hayden, the CIA chief, deserves some credit for releasing the "Family Jewels," and he wants the public to believe that his CIA is not your father's CIA, which plotted assassinations, illegally opened mail, and spied on American political dissidents. But the CIA in recent days has run secret prisons and used interrogation methods that either involve torture or border on torture. (The details are sketchy.) And the National Security Agency has used warrantless wiretaps to eavesdrop on American citizens and residents. Moreover, as the release of the "Family Jewels" demonstrates, there still are secrets from the past the CIA will not disclose. Are these legitimate secrets that ought to be kept from the public to protect national security, or are they embarrassments the Agency is not willing to face? Only the secret-keepers of the CIA know which jewels remain buried.

The entire "Family Jewels" file and related documents can be found at the website of the National Security Archive.

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JUST OUT IN PAPERBACK: HUBRIS: THE INSIDE STORY OF SPIN, SCANDAL, AND THE SELLING OF THE IRAQ WAR by Michael Isikoff and David Corn. The paperback edition of this New York Times bestseller contains a new afterword on George W. Bush's so-called surge in Iraq and the Scooter Libby trial. The Washington Post said of Hubris: "Indispensable....This [book] pulls together with unusually shocking clarity the multiple failures of process and statecraft." The New York Times called it, "The most comprehensive account of the White House's political machinations...fascinating reading." Tom Brokaw praised it as "a bold and provocative book." Hendrik Hertzberg, senior editor of The New Yorker notes, "The selling of Bush's Iraq debacle is one of the most important--and appalling--stories of the last half-century, and Michael Isikoff and David Corn have reported the hell out of it." For highlights from Hubris, click here.

The Push to Restore Habeas Corpus

About four thousand people rallied in Washington today to advocate the restoration of habeas corpus and other constitutional rights undermined by the Bush Administration, according to estimates from the ACLU.

Organizers say they are delivering about 200,000 petition signatures to Congress that demand immediate action to "restore habeas corpus, fix the Military Commissions Act, end torture and rendition and restore our constitutional rights." This is not a one-day affair, either. The rally is designed to continue online until Congress acts. A coalition of over 50 organizations, led by the ACLU and Amnesty International, is recruiting supporters through an official website; Senate Judiciary Chairman Pat Leahy started a website asking people to pressure his Senate colleagues into supporting the habeas bill; and MoveOn has launched a new campaign to end torture, pass habeas legislation and "Restore the Rule of Law." MoveOn organizer Nita Chaudhary is leading the important effort, which includes support from retired Generals Robert Gard and John Johns, who spoke out in favor of closing Guantanamo this week.

Writing about the rally on the blog FireDogLake today, former prosecutor Christy Hardin Smith urged her netroots readers to lobby Congress. "We are better than jailing people in perpetuity without a determination of innocence or guilt. And we owe a debt, both to our founders and to future generations, to right this profound wrong," she wrote.

This push comes at a critical time. The Senate will consider legislation on defense issues and habeas corpus when it returns from recess in July. Several Democratic presidential candidates now raise these issues on the trail. Dodd and Edwards challenge Bush's entire approach to the Global War on Terror, while Obama has been singling out habeas corpus in his stump speech for months (which the AP recently noticed). And this week the Bush Administration publicly debated when to close Guantanamo – not if.

So even the people who created Gitmo won't defend it.

In fact, the only people left supporting Bush's detainee policy offer unintelligible slogans, like Mitt Romney's promise to "double Guantanamo," or embarrassing falsehoods, such as James Taranto's Wall Street Journal column today, which claims that the executive branch "protects our freedom" by "keeping" people "out of our justice system." Suspending habeas corpus and denying people their right to challenge government detention actually limits "freedom," of course, but with no logical defense of Gitmo available, Mr. Taranto just throws around inflammatory words. The same column attacks Colin Powell, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, for trying to "endanger the lives of American civilians." Why? Because Powell's proposal to close Gitmo supports "constitutional protections" for individuals in U.S. custody.

Yet this is one way to tell that the push for habeas corpus and human rights is working: With the administration openly planning to close the base, the diehard Gitmo defenders are getting desperate and shrill. Now they argue that Americans' lives are "endangered" by our generals and our constitution. Mr. Taranto and the diehards can loudly take their side against the constitution and the generals, but who will join them?

UPDATE: Phillip Carter, an attorney and former U.S. Army Officer who served in Iraq in 2005 and 2006, rebuts James Taranto's attack on Powell in a post on the blog Intel Dump. Carter emphasizes that as a realist, Powell was motivated primarily by the national security benefits to supporting the Geneva Conventions and closing Gitmo. Carter explains: "[Powell] felt, as I do, that taking a narrow, cribbed view of these international laws would undermine our security in the long run, and that America would be stronger if it continued to lead the world on issues of law in war [...] Powell is a hard-bitten realist, and always has been. His opinions on Gitmo relect a cost-benefit calculation about the benefits of keeping this facility open versus the costs to American interests of doing so."

 

Thompson's Spies & Smokers

Now that he's an all-but-declared candidate, surging in the polls and touring key primary states, Fred Thompson's campaign is starting to come together. One of Thompson's top operatives is an old PR hand named Ken Rietz.

Since Rietz is hardly a household name, here are a few things you should know about him.

Back in the 1970s, the late investigative reporter Jack Anderson described Rietz as a "key member of a Nixon campaign 'spy' team." Roll Call recently explained what that entailed: "When the Watergate scandal broke in 1973, Rietz acknowledged he had paid a college student $150 a week to infiltrate a peace vigil at the White House and set up the demonstrators for drug arrest charges. He also tried to plant a driver with then-Sen. Edmund Muskie (D-Maine), a presidential candidate, to get inside information."

Rietz resigned from the RNC, then led by George Bush I, and became an organizer for Ronald Reagan in California. In the 1980s Rietz joined the huge PR firm Burson-Marsteller, now run by Hillary Clinton pollster Mark Penn.

One of Rietz's big assignments at Burson, as reported by Tom Edsall today, was to set up the National Smokers Alliance on behalf of Philip Morris. The group, according to the Center for Media and Democracy, was founded in 1993 "to give the appearance of grassroots opposition to smoke-free laws without its corporate involvement being detected." Rietz is now one of a number of powerful tobacco-industry allies in Thompson's inner circle.

During the 2004 election Rietz headed a shadowy 527 called the November Fund, funded largely by the Chamber of Commerce, that ran $10 million in ads in battleground states attacking John Edwards and the "trial-lawyer lobby in DC." In September 2004, Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington (CREW) filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission alleging that the November Fund illegally received $500,000 from the Chamber of Commerce, colluded with the Bush-Cheney campaign and violated a moratorium on attacking candidates by name 60 days before an election. CREW head Melanie Sloan called the group's work "illegal and unethical."

Today, Rietz is largely in charge of Thompson's media strategy, organizing conference calls, recruiting talent and orchestrating "grassroots" buzz for the candidate.

It's a good thing that Thompson plays a District Attorney on Law & Order. Because in real life his close associates represent anything but.

An Olympic Disgrace

The Olympics are always big business, and the next summer's Games in Beijing may well be the most profitable in history. Much of the money is made through licensing; sale of Beijing Games mascots alone is expected to bring in profits of more than $300 million. But the workers making clothing and other items bearing the Olympic logo are not exactly sharing in this windfall. "No Medal for the Olympics on Labour Rights," a new report by PlayFair 2008, a coalition of human rights groups hoping to pressure the International Olympic Committee to set -- and enforce -- ethical standards, found, at the Chinese factories making official Olympic goods, grotesque disregard for workers' health and safety and for local labor laws. One of the companies involved, Mainland Headwear, which has the exclusive right to make Olympic hats, paid its employees half the legal minimum wage. Other companies were hiring children as young as twelve. Several others require workers to work more than thirteen hours a day, seven days a week, for as long as two weeks without a day off, to meet extremely tight deadlines for retailers eager to hawk Olympic goods. One worker said, "To hell with the Olympics product, I am so tired."

Human rights issues will -- and should -- loom large in discussions of next summer's Games, not least because the host is China, a country that is justly criticized for abuses. That doesn't mean, however, that we should join folks like would-be-president Bill Richardson, who's been taking a cue from Jimmy Carter and calling for a boycott of the Beijing Olympics (over China's lackadaisical response to the Darfur crisis). The Games -- while certainly a huge marketing opportunity for corporations -- are also about internationalism, human solidarity and fun, and a boycott is a slap in the face to athletes who have spent years training. (Other presidential candidates have soundly rejected the idea.) And of course, it's always hypocritical for Americans to boycott other countries on human rights grounds; in this case, the international community can rightly bring up Abu Ghraib, Gitmo and just a few other little problems for which the US is eminently to blame. (Then again, as the New Republic has reported, Richardson may be a wee bit out of his depth on such matters, despite having once been US Ambassador to the UN.) But that doesn't mean we should do nothing. PlayFair 2008 is seizing the opportunity presented by the Games to press for improved conditions in the sporting goods sector. The coalition is not calling on the Olympics Committee to throw people out of work by canceling factory contracts, rather, to live up to its own stated commitment to social responsibility and ethical sourcing by working with the factories to improve conditions. Check out the website to find out what PlayFair 2008 is asking the Olympics, sportswear companies, governments, and investors to do, and to find out how your organization can support its efforts.

Will Robert Gates Save America?

The recent CIA documents dump, the so-called "family jewels," tell but part of the story. Our new secretary of defense knows most of the rest.

It's fitting that, as part 3 of Roger Morris' monumental portrait of Robert Gates, the CIA, and a half-century-plus of American covert action comes to a close at the Tomdispatch.com website, a CIA document dump of previously secret materials from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s has put the years when our Secretary of Defense first entered the Agency back in the news. Assassination plots against foreign leaders, kidnappings, warrantless wiretapping of reporters, the illegal opening of American mail, illegal break-ins, behavior modification experiments on "unwitting" citizens, illegal surveillance of domestic dissident groups and critics of the Agency -- it seems never to end.

And yet, you have to read Morris' latest wild ride, "The Rise and Rise of Robert Gates," to realize how much this list still lacks when it comes to the acts of the CIA. It is, after all, one of the ironies of our moment that our (relatively) new secretary of defense now travels the American world -- to Kabul and Baghdad's Green Zone in particular, where he frets about Tehran -- only to find himself, in essence, confronting (though our media never bothers to say so) the consequences of the misdeeds of his younger self. It's a grisly record and, not surprisingly, a grisly world has been its result.

If you haven't read bestselling author (and former National Security Council staffer) Roger Morris' first two parts on Gates and the CIA -- "The Gates Inheritance" and "The World That Made Bob," then do so and prepare yourself for the mayhem of the world Gates helped make when, in the 1980s, he came into his own. That this is the man meant to save us from the disparate fundamentalisms of Bush the Younger and Dick Cheney tells us a great deal about just how low we've sunk.

McCain’s K Street Connection

Remember that old story about the pot and the kettle. Well, Tom Edsall of the Huffington Post reports today that John McCain, the once-crusading reformer, has more lobbyists on his staff than any other '08 presidential candidate.

Two of his top guns are Congressmen-turned-lobbyists Tom Loeffler of Texas and Slade Gordon of Washington, who represent clients such PhrMA, the powerful pharmaceutical industry trade group whose influence McCain used to regularly deride. McCain called the Medicare privatization bill of 2003 the "Leave No Lobbyist Behind Bill." Now those very same lobbyists are members of his inner circle.

One of McCain's top operatives is Charlie Black, an ally of Ahmad Chalabi and Lockheed Martin, another company McCain has criticized for its sweetheart deals with the Defense Department. (Black's lobbying firm, BKSH & Associates, also happens to be a subsidiary of Burson-Marsteller, the huge PR firm run by Hillary Clinton's chief strategist, Mark Penn.)

On the flipside, Edsall reports that of the major Democratic candidates Barack Obama has the fewest ties to K Street. Perhaps that's why he just gave the strongest speech yet of this campaign season about how to clean up the cesspool in Washington.

"From Jack Abramoff to Tom Delay, from briberies to indictments, the scandals that have plagued Washington over the last few years have been too numerous to recall," Obama told voters in New Hampshire on Friday.

"But their most troubling aspect goes far beyond the headlines that focus on the culprits and their crimes. It's an entire culture in Washington - some of it legal, some of it not - that allows this to happen. Because what's most outrageous is not the morally offensive conduct on behalf of these lobbyists and legislators, but the morally offensive laws and decisions that get made as a result.

It was a great speech. One that almost made me yearn for the McCain of 2000.

Dying For Press Freedom

Reviews of "A Mighty Heart" -- the cinematic rendering of the tragic kidnapping and murder of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl -- inevitably touched on the heroism of journalists, who bravely follow stories into the brutal, shadowy world of terrorists or the dangerous frontlines of a war zone.

Ever since 9/11, life has grown far more perilous for Western journalists, as they report stories from Iraq, Afghanistan, and other hot spots in the Middle East in the midst of the so-called "war on terror." The latest casualty is Alan Johnston of the BBC, who has been kidnapped by Palestinian militants.

While the level media attention given to the plight of Western correspondents is well-deserved, it is also tragically lopsided. Consider, for example, ABC news anchor Bob Woodruff. A casualty of a roadside bomb in Iraq, Woodruff's injuries and long road to recovery became fodder for a much-publicized book and documentary. There was much talk of Woodruff's undoubted journalistic and personal courage.

If you look at the statistics released by the Committee to Protect Journalists, you realize that Woodruff lucky to survive in a country where more reporters have died since 2003 than anywhere else in the world. But he was also an anomaly, hardly representative of who really pays the price for press freedom in Iraq. According to the CPJ, of the
108 journalists killed in Iraq on duty, 86 were Iraqi,twelve were European, and eight were from other countries. The number of American journalists killed in Iraq: two.

This isn't to take anything away from the heroism of a Woodruff or a Danny Pearl, but to acknowledge that much of our own knowledge of the war relies on the indomitable courage of Iraqi journalists, who do much of the actual on-the-ground reporting for Western media outlets at a time when western reporters are "virtually under house arrest," as Wall Street Journal's Farnaz Fassihi put it in a 2004 email. The 86 dead Iraqis, for example, include five employees of The Associated Press, The most recent victim being Said M. Fakhry, 26, an AP Television News cameraman shot dead May 31 in his Baghdad neighborhood. And even when foreign correspondents are kidnapped by militants, the Iraqi journalists accompanying them are almost always killed immediately -- even terrorists know that the life of an Iraqi has no collateral value in Mideast politics.

According to AP, things are getting worse by the day: "More than a dozen other Iraqi media employees have disappeared -- apparent victims of kidnap gangs and sectarian death squads."

The lives of of these journalists don't merit a major book deal, network news special, or a Hollywood flick, but it doesn't make their work any less valuable for us Americans. At a 2005 conference, I was introduced to Huda Ahmed, who received recognition for her extraordinary bravery from her employer, Knight Ridder. I asked her why she chose to do this kind of work, whose risks far outweighed the apparent rewards. "For my country," she said. That's the kind of patriotism we can all learn from.

Southern California Grocery Workers Vote Massive Strike

The union representing more than 65,000 Southern California grocery workers has voted to authorize a region-wide strike against the giant Vons and Ralphs supermarket chains. A few months ago the same union authorized a strike against the Albertsons chain.

The new vote comes after an impasse was reached in contract talks last week. More than 90% of members approved the possible strike action.

At central issue, no surprise, are wages and health care benefits. Only 3 1/2 years ago the union went out on a bitterly fought 142 day strike that ended in a disappointing manner. The markets were able to impose a new two-tier contract, severely cutting back wage rates and insurance benefits for newer employees.

The United Food and Commercial Workers union is currently trying to win back some of those concessions it was forced to accept. The two-tier system hasn't met the expectations of the employers either, helping to create a less stable and less professional work force. The unions are hopeful that this time around they can gain the upper hand.

The actual walkout could begin anytime after a required 72 hour advance notice if offered.

Calling Cheney's Bluff

Illinois Congressman Rahm Emanuel has come up with the right response to Dick Cheney's attempt to suggest that the Office of the Vice President is not part of the executive branch.

The House Democratic Caucus chairman wants to take the Cheney at his word. Cheney says his office is "not an entity within the executive branch," so Emanuel wants to take away the tens of millions of dollars that are allocated to the White House to maintain it.

The root of the controversy is in a fight that the vice president has picked with the National Archives, which is charged with keeping tabs on how the offices of the president, the vice president and their appointees handle classified documents.

Under federal legislation enacted in 1995, members of the executive branch must work with the Archives to preserve classified documents. The law was backed up, at least in part, by an executive order issued four years ago by President Bush. But Cheney and his staff have refused for five years to file reports that are required as part of the oversight process. Why? Because the vice president -- that's the vice president -- claims he is not exactly a member of the executive branch.

So what is Cheney? Because the vice president serves in the frequently ceremonial position of president of the Senate, Cheney's office now claims that he is a member of the legislative branch -- and thus unburdened by any responsibility to cooperate with the Archives.

Forget the fact that the Constitution clearly defines the vice presidency as an executive position.

Forget the fact that, since then-Congressman Cheney wrote the Iran-Contra investigation minority report defending the "right" of the Reagan administration to set its own foreign policy, he has been a consistent and aggressive advocate for increasing the authority of the executive branch.

Forget the fact that, since the Supreme Court handed power to the Buch-Cheney ticket in December 2OOO, Cheney has fashioned himself as the most powerful vice president in history.

Forget the fact that when Cheney has steadfastly refused to share classified information with the U.S. House and Senate.

Forget the fact that when Cheney actually makes his way to Capitol Hill it is famously to spew obscenities at Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy.

O.K., says Emanuel.

If Cheney's a member of the legislative branch, the Democratic Caucus chair suggests, the vice president won't need all the money that currently goes to pay for his executive office, extensive staff and that secure undisclosed location that is so often his haunt. So Emanuel plans this week to offer an amendment to a spending bill that would defund the Office of the Vice President.

Of course, there would still be funding for the Office of the Senate President. But, let's be frank, the rare tie-breaking duties and ceremonial administrative functions associated with that position won't require more than a smidgen of the money that now goes to the vice president's epic executive-branch operations.

"This amendment will ensure that the vice president's funding is consistent with his legal arguments," say Emanuel, a former aide to President Clinton who, like Cheney, has served in both the legislative and executive branches.

Come to think of it, no matter what branch of the government he happens to occupy, doesn't it make sense to defund Cheney? At this point in the Bush-Cheney interregnum, any move that disempowers Dick Cheney can only benefit the Republic.

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John Nichols's book The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney: Unlocking the Mysteries of the Most Powerful Vice President in American History (The New Press) is available nationwide at independent bookstores and at www.amazon.com. Publisher's Weekly describes it as "a Fahrenheit 9/11 for Cheney" and Esquire magazine says it "reveals the inner Cheney." The London Review of Books says The Rise and Rise of Richard B. Cheney "makes a persuasive case…that the vice-presidency is the real locus of power in the current administration: Cheney runs the show."